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Tip O' the Hat to Socrates

"Mankind can hardly be too often reminded, that there was once a man named Socrates, between whom and the legal authorities and public opinion of his time, there took place a memorable collision. Born in an age and country abounding in individual greatness, this man has been handed down to us by those who best knew both him and the age, as the most virtuous man in it; while we know him as the head and prototype of all subsequent teachers of virtue, the source equally of the lofty inspiration of Plato and the judicious utilitarianism of Aristotle, "i maëstri di color che sanno," the two headsprings of ethical as of all other philosophy. This acknowledged master of all the eminent thinkers who have since lived—whose fame, still growing after more than two thousand years, all but outweighs the whole remainder of the names which make his native city illustrious—was put to death by his countrymen, after a judicial conviction, for impiety and immorality. Impiety, in denying the gods recognised by the State; indeed his accuser asserted (see the Apologia) that he believed in no gods at all. Immorality, in being, by his doctrines and instructions, a "corrupter of youth." Of these charges the tribunal, there is every ground for believing, honestly found him guilty, and condemned the man who probably of all then born had deserved best of mankind, to be put to death as a criminal."

-John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, Chapter II - Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion.

". . . and if again I say that to talk every day about virtue and the other things about which you hear me talking and examining myself and others is the greatest good to man, and that the unexamined life is not worth living, you will believe me still less. This is as I say, gentlemen, but it is not easy to convince you."

- Plato, Apology 38a


Born circa 470 B.C.E. in Athens Greece, Socrates was a pivotal figure in world history. He has been both reviled and praised. In his life-time he was deemed a threat to the stability of his own city state and executed on trumped up charges. Although he never wrote anything down, his example as a questioner and seeker of wisdom set the stage for what would later become western philosophy.

There is perhaps no greater ode to Socrates than the one written by his student Plato at the end of his dialogue the Phaedo, a fictional account of the last hours and death of Socrates:

"Such was the end, Echecrates, of our friend, whom I may truly call the wisest, and justest, and best of all the men whom I have ever known."

The Acropolis of Athens in the time of Socrates